IFAS | Freedom Writer | July/August 1997 | gays.html

A brief history of gay rights

By Jerry Sloan

When Cain ambled over to the land of Nod to seek a wife, chances are, had he been so oriented, he probably could have, just as easily, found a himself a husband.

There is every indication that homosexual relationships have existed for at least as long as there have been historical records.

These records establish that some outstanding people of ancient cultures were homosexual including: Sappho (610 - 580 B.C.E.); Plato (427 - 347 B.C.E.); Alexander the Great (356 - 323 B.C.E.); Julius Caesar (100 - 44 B.C.E.); to say nothing of the great a rmy of lovers known as the Sacred Band of Thebes (371 B.C.E.).

Ancient Egypt provides two older examples of same-sex relationships.

King Akhenaten (ruled 1379 - 1362 B.C.E.) who, although he followed Egyptian custom by marrying his mother and four other women, had an intimate relationship with a man named Smenkhkare. The couple was assassinated by polytheistic (fundamentalist) priests who were upset because Akhenaten introduced monotheism into the culture.

There is a wonderful web page at http://www.sirius.com/~reeder/niankh.html about the tomb of two Egyptian lovers, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (2400 B.C.E.?) who apparently shared life and death toge ther.

Of course there is the biblical story of David and Jonathan which tells us that Jonathan loved David so much they made a covenant together, and the beautiful lament of David at Jonathan's death saying, "Thy love to me was wonderful passing the love of wom en."

Contrary to what is often proclaimed by modern fundamentalist preachers, such as Jerry Falwell, that homosexuality doesn't exist in the animal kingdom, it is well documented that numerous species such as the famous "lesbian pigeons" or the pansexual Bonob o, a rare breed of chimpanzees, said to most resemble humans, engage in homosexual conduct.

Recently on the floor of the California Assembly one of its members, Peter Frusetta (R-Tres Pinos), during debate on "gay rights" legislation, engaged in a rambling discourse about lesbian bovines which he had observed on his cattle ranch.

While homosexuals have been present at all times in history, never before have they been so prominent in public policy debate on a world wide scale, nor aroused such animosity of fundamentalist religions since the Inquisition.

How did all of this come about? According to Barry Adam, in his book The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement, it is the result of urbanization. In Western countries the move from the farm to the city allowed homosexuals who had little contact with one another to meet.

Both Adam, and the late Dr. John Boswell in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, note gay bars in seventeenth century London and Paris. For 300 years bars were to remain the primary meeting place for gays and lesbians.

As gays urbanized, they organized. Formal organizing started May 1897 with the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, founded by Dr. Magnus Hirschfield in Germany. Most organizing in this country has occurred since the founding of the Mattachine Society in Lo s Angeles in 1951, and the Daughters of Bilitus in San Francisco in 1955.

These and other small organizations moved slowly in organizing and outreach, but considering it was the heyday of McCarthyism, they made tremendous progress.

Other factors which influenced the emerging movement:

And then came the gay shot heard around the world: Stonewall!

Starting early in the morning of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots were minor street disturbances that came about when the New York Police raided gay bars like the Stonewall Inn, an unlicensed, Mafia-operated bar, which catered to drag queens and male hu stlers and was located in Greenwich Village at 53 Christopher Street.

Several drag queens resisted as they were being shoved into a police van. At that magic moment, all the frustration, fear and anger of societal oppression boiled over and New York's Finest were held at bay for the rest of the night by a queer mob. For two more nights the crowds took to the streets after the bars closed, marching to the shouts of "Gay Power!"

The spread of the movement was augmented in 1970 by the first annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. There are now nearly a thousand of these celebrations held worldwide, most in June, with some drawing as many as a half million people.

After the Stonewall Riots, the gay and lesbian movement was radicalized. The more cautious Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitus were replaced by groups like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance. All across the country grassroots o rganizations sprung up with the demand for a place in society, pushing for changes in the way gays were viewed by society, and for protection from discrimination in jobs and housing.

Today, formal lobbying groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and thousands of local and state groups advocate for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendere d people. There are about 100 community centers offering support with youth groups, rap groups and a variety of other services.

As with most civil rights movements, the translesbigay communities have struggled, sometimes taking two steps forward and three steps backward, but it is a movement that will persevere and eventually overcome the prejudice, bigotry, and hate of those who oppose freedom, tolerance, and love.

© 1998 Jerry Sloan all rights reserved